THRELKELD, Lancelot Edward (1788-1859)


THRELKELD, Lancelot Edward (1788-1859)
missionary to the aborigines and scholar
son of Samuel Joseph Threlkeld, was born in England on 20 October 1788. He was well educated, and in 1814 the London Missionary Society accepted him as a missionary to the heathen. In the following year he was ordained as a missionary and sailed for Tahiti, but the illness and subsequent death of his child detained Threlkeld for a year at Rio de Janeiro, where he started a Protestant church. He left for Sydney on 22 January 1817, arrived on 11 May, after a short stay went to the South Sea Islands, and arrived at Eimeo in November. A missionary station was formed at Raiatea and Threlkeld worked there for nearly seven years. His wife died, and being left with four children he returned to Sydney in 1824. A mission to the aborigines was founded at Lake Macquarie, 10,000 acres were reserved, and Threlkeld was appointed missionary. He went to live with the aborigines on their reservation, and in 1826 published Specimens of a Dialect of the Aborigines of New South Wales (author's own statement but the British Museum copy is dated 1827). In 1828 he came in conflict with the London Missionary Society which objected to his incurring unauthorized expenses in connexion with the mission. Threlkeld in reply published a pamphlet which the treasurer of the society described as "virulent". The connexion with the Missionary Society was severed and it was decided that Threlkeld should be allowed to continue his work with a salary of £150 a year from the colonial government. He was also allowed four convict servants with rations. In 1834 he published An Australian Grammar, comprehending the Principles and Natural Rules of the Language, as spoken by the Aborigines, in the vicinity of Hunter's river, Lake Macquarie, New South Wales. This was followed in 1836 by An Australian Spelling Book in the Language spoken by the Aborigines. Threlkeld worked on for some years and began translating the New Testament into the Hunter's River language of the aborigines, but by 1842 it was realized that he was having little or no success in his mission which was then given up. Threlkeld had received a legacy from his father's estate which apparently was spent on his mission house and this reverted to the crown when the mission was abandoned. In 1842 Threlkeld became pastor of the Congregational church at Watson's Bay, Sydney, and in 1845 he was appointed minister of the Mariners' church at Sydney and continued in this position until his death. In 1850 he published A Key to the Structure of the Aboriginal Language, and he was still working on a translation of the four Gospels when he died suddenly at Sydney on 10 October 1859. He was married twice and was survived by sons and daughters of both marriages. In 1892 An Australian Language as spoken by the Awabakal the People of Awaba or Lake Macquarie being an account of their Language, Traditions and Customs; by L. E. Threlkeld. Rearranged, condensed, and edited, with an Appendix by John Fraser, B.A., LL.D., was issued by the government of New South Wales.
Threlkeld, though a man of benevolent nature, had an active and impulsive mind and little art in concealing his opinions. He came in conflict with the Missionary Society in the early days of his mission to the aborigines, and in his later years he was involved in many of the controversies of the time. He was, however, held in much respect, and though he succeeded neither in confining aborigines to a small reservation, which was against their habit of life, nor in bringing them to Christianity, he was able to do good work as an interpreter when they were charged with offences the nature of which they most imperfectly understood. His work on the aboriginal languages, the earliest of real value, was conscientiously done by a man who appreciated the difficulties of his task, and who had learned the pitfalls likely to be encountered.
Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XI, XII, XV, XVI, XXI, XXIV, especially vol. XXI, pp. 739-42; J. Fraser, Introduction to An Australian Language, etc., 1892, pp. XI-XV; The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 October 1859; Ben. W. Champion, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XXV, pp. 279-330, 341-411.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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